Volvo unveiled the IntelliSafe Auto Pilot interface in October 2015, which will allow drivers to switch in and out of autonomous mode. Courtesy of Volvo Car Group
But the head of Volvo warns that without broad federal guidelines, the U.S. is at risk of losing its leadership position in the development of self-driving cars.
Two questions loom over automakers and tech companies as they push forward with the development and testing of self-driving cars: “Who is responsible?” and “What are the rules?”
For Volvo Car Group, the answer to the first question is “us.” Volvo Car Group President and CEO Håkan Samuelsson said Thursday that the company will accept full liability whenever one of its cars is in autonomous mode. Samuelsson, who made the comments during a seminar on self-driving cars, said Volvo is “one of the first car makers in the world to make such a promise.”
For Volvo, the real threat to self-driving cars isn’t about technology—which is advancing at a brisk pace—but regulations. While the U.S. is currently the most progressive country in the world in autonomous driving, its position could be eroded if a national framework for regulation and testing is not developed, according to Samuelsson.
“The U.S. risks losing its leading position due to the lack of federal guidelines for the testing and certification of autonomous vehicles,” Samuelsson said. “Europe has suffered to some extent by having a patchwork of rules and regulations. It would be a shame if the U.S. took a similar path to Europe in this crucial area.”
Samuelsson urged regulators to work closely with car makers to solve controversial outstanding issues such as questions over legal liability in the event that a self-driving car is involved in a crash or hacked by a criminal third party.
Without a clear set of rules, automakers won’t be able to conduct credible tests to develop cars that meet the different guidelines of each of the 50 states, he added. Samuelsson made the comments, which were also provided by the company’s press team upon request, during a seminar entitled “A Future with Self Driving Cars – Is it Safe?” at the Swedish embassy in Washington DC.
“We do have an increasing number of automated and driver assistance features in our cars, but the driver is still in control and is still ultimately responsible, he said.
Automakers are in a race to develop self-driving tech that will turn drivers into passengers. Audi, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz, Ford F 1.56% , Tesla TSLA 1.24% , and General Motors GM 0.51% all are developing autonomous driving features.
Volvo, which was acquired by Zhejiang Geely Holding of China in 2010, unveiled an interface that will allow drivers to activate and deactivate the autonomous mode through specially-designed paddles on the steering wheel. The interface, called IntelliSafe Auto Pilot, will be available for the first time on 100 XC90 model cars that Volvo will make available for its Drive Me project in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2017. The interface was developed to oversee how drivers will transfer control to a car’s autonomous driving mode in future cars.
The Drive Me project will make 100 self-driving Volvo's available to consumers around Gothenburg for use in everyday driving conditions, according to the company. The cars will be driven autonomously on about 50 kilometers (31 miles) of selected roads.